Saturday, September 26, 2009

Love: Surrogates

I haven’t read the source material for The Surrogates, so I can’t tell you how the new film matches up or how well it does the original story justice. I can tell you that the film version is inventive and thrilling, with a story that twists and turns effortlessly across murky philosophical questions and elegant performances.

The film follows good cop Tom Greer (Bruce Willis) as he unravels the mysteries surrounding the deaths of several people murdered while connected to their surrogates; the slightly more robotic looking and more realistic versions of Second Life avatars. Eventually the entire world finds itself in danger as Tom sheds his own avatar to save everyone else.

The content is weighty and brings up important questions we should all be asking ourselves, and inevitably will after the release of James Cameron’s Avatar. What is the future of technology? How does our integration with it affect our humanity? How far will we escape into the cold arms of a computer? How paranoid does this make those that choose not to follow it? The list goes on. But the film deals with each issue with surprising ease where it just as easily could have drifted into preachy “Superman 4” territory, revealing this thread only at its most emotional moments, a fault I can forgive considering the quality of the rest of it.

This balance is achieved mainly in the subtle and skillful performances of the entire cast. Willis expands his character beyond the typical gruff John McClaine stereotype he’s good at, and hits real emotional depth without reeking of pretension or banality. Willis is bolstered by Rosamund Pike as the perfect stepford wife with a conscience while Radha Mitchell’s FBI agent’s subtle transition between operators reminds us why we missed her big screen presence. James Cromwell is a big standout, playing surrogate inventor Dr. Canter with the type of artistic fervor and humanity missing in many mad scientists.

The film does have a few nagging flaws. I would have liked to see a more lush, visceral setting and deeper attention to detail. I often found myself distracted by the outdated technology mixed with the new (Would a hospital still have land line phones in a world advanced enough to have surrogate technology? Would we still have gas powered vehicles if we could power a human avatar that big?); these seem like easy fixes. I also found some key areas such as the “human only” safety zones to be plain and boring, just like the surrogate world.” It is this attention to developing a world that draws the viewer in, and the similarity in concepts often times made me ache for the beauty and depth of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner or even (dare I say it?) Michael Bay’s The Island. That may be an unfair comparison, but with a film exploring the darker technology obsessed voyeurs in us all, it may have done some good to draw us in visually. This would have made this good movie a great one. But all in all, the film balances depth and entertainment to produce a fun, interesting fall flick.

3 out of 5

Read more from M @ Bubbly.

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